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Better late than never, because life often gets in the way of blog post schedules.

H&O

A few years ago, a friend of mine, Michael Hingston, had a brilliant idea to make a Short Story Advent Calendar (SSAC) for Christmas 2015. That first calendar was a thing of beauty designed by Natalie Olsen and edited by Mike. The great thing about the calendar is that it contains classic stories, established authors, and writers just getting started in their careers (and often a local writer or two for good measure). I like to think I played a small part in the continuation of that enterprise by passing a copy on to comedian Patton Oswalt, who I had come to know over Twitter through our mutual love of books, scotch, strong tea, and saltines. Patton loved the SSAC and last year, in addition to the SSAC 2017, Hingston and Olsen (by then an official publishing house) worked in collaboration with Patton Oswalt to put out The Ghost Box, a Halloween advent calendar of 13 individually bound spooky stories that was so pretty it won an Alcuin Society Award for Excellence in Book Design in Canada.

 

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I first met Mike in 2013 when he was writing the books column for the Edmonton Journal and I had suggested to the MacEwan Book of the Year Committee that he would be an excellent candidate to interview Michael Ondaatje when he came to town to do a public reading of The Cat’s Table as part of the Book of the Year celebrations. We had known one another virtually for a little while because local book nerds do find one another on Twitter. Mike was an astute reviewer, and also happens to be a big fan of literature in translation, like me, so we got along like a house on fire.

 

Mike has been writing for a number of years and has published in Wired, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. His debut novel, The Dilettantes, came out from Freehand Books in Calgary in 2013. (I got a hot tip that you can now order signed copies from Mike while supplies last, just go to his website.) Mike has just published his first non-fiction book at ECW Press (one of Canadian independent publishing’s old guard, in business since 1974). Let’s Go Exploring: Calvin and Hobbes is an investigation into the history of Bill Watterson’s beloved comic strip and what it says about the power of imagination. It’s a great read.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure Hingston and Olsen are hard at work on SSAC 2018—and who knows what else they have up their creative sleevesbut be sure to watch their Twitter feed (@hingstonolsen) and website later this fall for updates. The calendars usually sell out pretty quickly, so make sure to get your order in early (and order more than one, because it’s a great gift for the book lovers in your life!).

 

The other thing I want people to take away from this post is the importance of community and connection. Mike is a great example of the kind of person who does well not just because of his talent (which he has in spades), and his hard work (which it exhausts me to even think about), but because he is an active and positive member of the literary community who understands the importance of community (between authors, readers, publishers, booksellers). Mike has supported indie publishers, local bookshops, other writers and their projects (like the very cool YEGWORDS coffee sleeve project from Jason Lee Norman (@bellyofawhale), and readers in whatever way he can (whether that be through book swaps/donations, reviews, social media, etc.). Enthusiasm and encouragement are an important part of the literary community, especially in one as toxic as the current CanLit scene. So, I want to spend the summer lifting up what I love, sharing, making connections, and creating community.

 

bookshopsamazonWhile most of this project will focus on fiction, I’m going to kick it off with one of my favourite nonfiction titles (and an essay) particularly relevant to the topic at hand. Bookshops: A Reader’s History by Jorge Carrión was published by Biblioasis in 2017, and hit shelves just after I left my post there as the Director of Marketing. (Humblebrag: contributing the subtitle for the North American edition was one of my proudest moments in publishing so far). Carrión’s book, in Peter Bush’s excellent translation from the Spanish, is one of those remarkable reads that somehow both satiates and stimulates the mind. The book is an intelligent and charming combination of travelogue, manifesto, and love letter. Reading it makes you want to visit bookshops in other cities and countries, exchange anecdotes and recommendations with the author, and fight the forces threatening to destroy these incredible spaces of social, cultural, and intellectual community.

 

And, of course, it makes you want to read more. I had to have a pen and notepad handy when reading so I could add titles to my TBR list, or make notes about things I wanted to read up on. I found the behavioural contradiction inspired by the book hilarious and frustrating: I wanted to get up and go traveling to bookshops both near and far, but I also wanted to snuggle in and keep reading Bookshops and do some deep-dive reading on all those wonderful ideas and new reading recommendations I had from within its pages. It was almost like those wonderful chats you have with people sometimes, where you follow one another down the “Have you read…?” rabbit hole. That was my favourite part of being a bookseller, the increased frequency of that rabbit hole and the joy everyone had falling down it.

 

Here are just three of the books added to my collection after reading this one. All three of these authors were already represented on my shelves, but these books were sought out specifically because of what Carrión said about them in his book. I’ve often wanted to map my books autobiographically, a project far beyond practicality now, but these small connections are satisfying. Two were purchased from Biblioasis bookshop (Biblioasis was a bookshop first, and in 2004 became a publishing house thanks to the determination and will of the intrepid Daniel Wells) and the Kiš was a lucky find in an amazing secondhand shop—Alhambra Books—here in Edmonton. Notice they are also mostly indie publishers:

 

 

 

Given the subject matter of Bookshops: A Reader’s History, it can come as no great surprise that Carrión is not a fan of the big bad Bezos and his Amazonian empire (what decent human being is, really?). Carrión’s essay, Against Amazon: Seven Arguments/One Manifesto, (also translated by Peter Bush)—printed as a chapbook by Biblioasis and posted later at LitHub—is a great companion piece to Bookshops: A Reader’s History (and more support for my lecture in the SIPS launch post). The chapbook made a big splash with indie booksellers and at the Frankfurt Book Fair, as Publishers Weekly reported. For anyone who still needs convincing that Amazon is not the right place to spend money ever, the essay makes a good case.

 

But I think the book makes an even better one. Why? Because the shops Carrión writes about have individuality, history, purpose, and his book makes you want to be a part of that. Reading this book makes people want to become part of the community created by bookshops, by the immediacy of the connection between author, publisher, bookseller, and reader in those spaces (through books, or shared knowledge/experiences/desires, or events), and by the special knowledge and personalized touch those stores can provide. While a local shop might not be able to guarantee delivery in 24 hours, it can guarantee you the space to explore, and the booksellers who know the literary landscape and who can recommend your next favourite read with much greater success than any algorithm ever will because they also know you as a reader and a person, not just a consumer. In this culture of instant gratification, a little patience is a good thing. It allows room for desire. I just got a phone call from my local shop (Audreys) about 3 special orders that are in from the UK that I have been waiting almost 8 weeks for. And I am so stoked to go pick them up!

 

Indie bookshops are the best place for indie publishers to find their champions in booksellers, because otherwise their titles are drowned out in the algorithmic noise and the clamour for bestseller status.There is no room for individuality in Bezos’s algorithmic future, which is why the big publishing houses are now all chasing trends and not good literature (if I ever see another blurb declaring “the next Gone Girl,” I’m burning it all down). But the individuality, history, and purpose of indie bookshops perfectly suits the indie publisher. It’s also why indie publishers matter. They take risks. They’re interesting. They are a glitch in the matrix—a commercial enterprise with a cultural heart. Each indie publishers list has a distinct editorial flavour because at a small press every project has to be a passion project. I’ll be writing more about those passion projects as the summer continues, and I’ll be returning to Biblioasis for a closer look at some of their fiction in a later post. But, in the meantime, if you are looking for an intellectual, charming, and engaging read by a kindred spirit, look no further than Jorge Carrión’s Bookshops: A Reader’s History. Happy reading!

SIPS

Happy Summer Solstice! On this longest day of the year and first day of summer, I am kicking off my latest reading project—Support Indie Publishers Summer (or #SIPS in hashtagese). Inspired by my love of indie publishers and my need to tackle some of my TBR in earnest (and also my impending unemployment, which will give me the free time to read and blog about great books—although hot tips on publishing jobs are most welcome), I will be blogging and tweeting about what I read and also including some features on publishers or more in-depth analyses of books or stories that I love. I encourage everyone to seek out books from independent publishers this summer, and if you can’t buy them direct from the publisher, please buy from a local or nearby independent bookshop or borrow from the library.

Here follows the lecture portion of this blogpost: The whole point of a project like this is to support independent business. Corporate chains selling yoga mats and home décor with books on the side or evil online monopolies run by inhumane gazillionaires are not businesses anyone should support. Ordering direct from an indie publisher or an indie bookshop might cost a bit more in shipping or take a little longer to arrive, but the satisfaction of knowing that your dollars are deeply appreciated and are going back in to the local independent arts and culture economy is worth it.

So, today, I’m just going to encourage you to visit the websites of some of my very favourite indie publishers and browse around and perhaps do a little shopping to get ready for #SIPS. I can’t possibly list all the publishers I’ll mention this summer (mostly because I’m bound to forget someone crucial), and I’m not going to recommend any books to you at this point, because I want you to explore and find the books that appeal to you. I’ll evangelize about my faves later. I do want to hear from people about what indie published books they’re reading this summer, and if you are blogging or tweeting about things, let me know and I’ll boost the signal. In any case, here is a starter list, to be amended as the summer wears on, of the publishers whose books I will definitely be chatting about. There’s a mix of Canadian, American, Irish, and UK-based publishers here, as well as English language and translation-focused publishers.

And Other Stories

Archipelago Books

Biblioasis

Blue Moose Books

Canongate

Catapult

Coach House

Coffee House Press

Dalkey Archive Press

Deep Vellum Press

Dorothy

Feminist Press

Galley Beggar Press

Gaspereau Press

Granta

Graywolf Press

Hingston & Olsen

Lilliput Press

McSweeney’s

Melville House

New Directions

New Island Books

New York Review of Books

Open Letter Press

Pushkin Press

Salt

Small Beer Press

Soft Skull Press

The Stinging Fly

Tin House

Tramp Press

Transit Books

Two Dollar Radio

Wakefield Press

I promise at least weekly posts (I am busy job hunting, after all), and will post more frequently when I am able. Here we go. Happy reading!

 

SIPSAfter one of the most interminable winters (no, seriously) filled with very little recreational reading and a lot of terrible undergrad essays, I have decided that I am going to spend my impending unemployment (btw, I’m looking for a job in publishing… pass it on!) catching up my TBR list (just kidding — it’s as interminable as an Edmonton winter). I’ve noticed lately that several of my favourite indie presses have been struggling or running fundraising campaigns so that they can continue to do the vital work that they do. So, from June 21 to September 22, I am going to dedicate this blog (which has long been in hibernation) to writing about great books from indie presses that you should read. I’ll be tweeting about the books with the hashtag #SIPS (which, let’s face it, acknowledges the other main activity of the summer that will accompany my reading). I’ve yet to settle on the details of the approach (which was originally going to be a publisher a week, but then I realized I couldn’t squeeze all my lovely favourites in!), so it will probably be seat-of-the-pants, as per usual. So, I’d love it if you all would join me in spreading the love for indie presses this summer. (And also, I obviously just want to snoop what you are reading). More to come next week!

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This blog has been sadly neglected of late, as a return to grad school and a sudden job offer in publishing necessitated two cross-country moves in 12 months. But I couldn’t miss out on posting for International Translation Day, even if just to post a list of some of my favourite translations in recent (and not so recent!) years. I’ll stick with perhaps some lesser known authors and mainly indie presses. There’s some linguistic variety here (Korean, Turkish, Norwegian, French, Italian, Czech, Bulgarian, Icelandic, Russian, Angolan Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish…), but I’m doing this without the benefit of having my bookshelf nearby (sadly it is 4,000 km to the left of me), so these are the off-the-top of-my-head, less-obvious picks (besides the usual faves Borges, Saramago, Gogol, Kafka… you know the drill), and I’m certainly forgetting some great reads. Feel free to comment and recommend some of your own faves to me, as I do love an infinite TBR list!

  1. Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco (McSweeney’s)
  2. No One Writes Back by Eun-Jin Jang (Dalkey Archive Press)
  3. The Man Who Walked Through Walls by Marcel Aymé (Pushkin Press)
  4. The General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa (Archipelago Books)
  5. The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto (Biblioasis)
  6. Collected Stories by Clarice Lispector (New Directions)
  7. Spilt Milk by Chico Buarque (Grove Press)
  8. The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skomsvold (Dalkey Archive Press)
  9. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (Harcourt)
  10. Varamo by César Aira (New Directions)
  11. The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
  12. The Garden of the Departed Cats by Bilge Karasu (New Directions)
  13. The Goddess of Fireflies by Geneviève Petterson (Esplanade)
  14. Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki (Biblioasis)
  15. Life Embitters by Josep Pla (Archipelago)
  16. The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux (Biblioasis)
  17. The Club of Angels by Luis Fernando Verissimo (New Directions)
  18. Eleven Prague Corpses by Kirill Kobrin (Dalkey Archive Press)
  19. Circus Bulgaria by Deyen Enev (Portobello)
  20. The Blue Fox by Sjon (FSG)
  21. The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (Penguin Classics)

2015 Wrap

This blog has been on an unexpected hiatus for most of the year due to some significant life changes, including leaving my job to return to school; moving my library (and myself) 1200 kilometres to the left; adapting to a new city; and struggling with being on the learning side of the lectern for the first time in a decade, surrounded by people 15 years my junior. The pace of this new program is such that I have no time for pleasure reading, but the few books that I have managed to squeeze in this year have included some great ones, and I want to share them with you.

My first read of 2015 is still my favourite read of the year: Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead. Dark, macabre, funny, and sad. A remarkable book. I also read Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter, which I enjoyed, but which was much darker in tone.

Here are my top 10 reads of the year:

  1. Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead – Barbara Comyns (Dorothy Project)
  2. The Dig – Cynan Jones (Coffee House Press)
  3. H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald (Hamish Hamilton)
  4. Beatlebone – Kevin Barry (Doubleday)
  5. The General Theory of Oblivion – José Eduardo Agualusa (Archipelago Books)
  6. Uprooted – Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
  7. The Story of My Teeth – Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
  8. Beauty Secrets of the Martyrs – Verity Holloway (Invisible Milliner)
  9. The Beautiful Bureaucrat – Helen Phillips (Henry Holt)
  10. Life Embitters – Josep Pla (Archipelago Books)

I had grand plans to read many more (and bigger) books this year, but life got in the way of that, so here are a few of the books that I wasn’t able to get to that will be first on my list when things slow down (hopefully) in May. I’ve read enough of the opening chapters to know I’ll enjoy them, but couldn’t immerse myself in the act of reading the way I like to, what with my mad schedule, so they all had to be postponed so I can give them the reading they deserve:

  1. Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
  2. The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma
  3. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
  4. The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
  5. Blood-Drenched Beard – Daniel Galera
  6. Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt
  7. The Vorrh – Brian Catling
  8. The Incarnations – Susan Barker
  9. Archivist Wasp – Nicole Kornher-Stace
  10. The Wilds – Julia Elliott

I wish all of you the best in the coming year. May you have ample reading time and a TBR list full of fantastic books!

 

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Last year, as you may recall, I let loose a rather impassioned rant about the Man Booker International Prize. Well, it appears that someone somewhere heard my cries. The Man Booker International Prize short list was announced today, and it is a thing of beauty. Of the 10 finalists, 8 are authors who write in languages other than English, and TWO of the authors (Couto and Aira) actually appeared as suggestions in my original angry post. (Coincidence? I think not!) So, I’m totally taking the credit for the fact that this year we have the pleasure of being introduced to more non-English writers, less familiar names, and I’m pleased that even the names I’m already familiar with aren’t really household names and are entirely deserving of a more global readership. Deep gratitude goes to the judges this year for saving a prize that I had almost given up on! Well done Marina Warner, Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank, and Wen-Chin Ouwang. You have redeemed the Man Booker International Prize, and brought English readers a treasure trove of new authors to explore. I look forward to reading books from each of the authors on this short list, and am actually excited for an award announcement for the first time in a very long time!

The Man Booker International prize short list, with some notes on what I’ve got on the shelf. I’m so excited to have new authors to discover!
• César Aira (Argentina) – My favourite (so far) is Varamo, but really, anything Aira writes is gold.

• Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)

• Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)

• Mia Couto (Mozambique) – My favourite is The Last Flight of the Flamingo, and I’m looking forward to getting to The Tuner of SIlences.

• Amitav Ghosh (India) – The Sea of Poppies sits on my shelf, waiting for me to have time…

• Fanny Howe (US)

• Ibrahim Al-Koni (Libya)

• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary) – I’ve read bits of The Melancholy of Resistance and it is amazing, but then, I haven’t had the time to tackle Satantango yet, which I hear is a masterpiece…

• Alain Mabanckou (Democratic Republic of the Congo) – I’ve had Broken Glass on my TBR since 2010, but have yet to order it in. That makes it #1 on the pile.

• Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)